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Less than 1 in 3 people over the age of 70 and 1 in 6 between the ages of 20 and 69 who could benefit from hearing aids have them, reports the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. It’s easy to understand why.
Obstacles like high cost and lack of time to see a hearing professional can make it challenging for people to get the help and hearing device they need.
Because hearing amplifiers can be more convenient and inexpensive to purchase, many people with hearing loss opt for these instead.
If you’re researching devices for hearing loss, read on to learn about the differences between hearing aids and hearing amplifiers, as well as the pros and cons of each.
Although they can look similar, there are several important differences between hearing aids and hearing amplifiers.
Hearing amplifiers are also known as personal sound amplifying products.
They don’t require a prescription, meaning you won’t have to visit a hearing aid professional to get them. What’s more, although the price varies, they can be significantly cheaper than hearing aids.
However, they don’t work the same way as hearing aids, and they aren’t designed to correct hearing loss. In some instances, they may even worsen hearing loss.
Hearing amplifiers work by amplifying every sound without differentiation. As such, they can’t crystalize nearby sounds or isolate specific sound frequencies you may have difficulty hearing.
Still, well-designed hearing amplifiers can help people without hearing loss hear faraway sounds more easily. That’s why hunters and bird watchers use them. They may also be a good first step to hearing aids for some people with mild hearing loss.
Unlike hearing amplifiers, hearing aids require an audiological evaluation and prescription. The prescription is uniquely yours, just like prescription eyewear.
Hearing aids are categorized as class 1 medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Hearing amplifiers, on the other hand, are not medical devices and are not regulated by the FDA.
It’s important not to confuse standard hearing aids or hearing amplifiers with over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids.
OTC hearing aids are a new hearing aid category that, when available, will also be regulated as class 1 medical devices by the FDA. Like hearing amplifiers, OTC hearing aids will not require a prescription, but they will be designed to correct hearing loss.
Unlike hearing amplifiers, hearing aids identify the specific sounds you have trouble hearing — based on your prescription — and make them clearer and louder. That’s how they can help you follow a conversation in a noisy room.
In addition to providing hearing quality, hearing aids have a range of special features that most hearing amplifiers lack. These vary but can include:
- tinnitus relief
- Bluetooth capability
- app connectivity for the wearer and for others, such as caregivers
- digital noise reduction
- artificial intelligence
- wind noise reduction
If you’re on the fence and unsure if hearing aids or hearing amplifiers are right for you, the highlighted devices below may help you decide.
We’ve focused on easily accessible hearing aids that are lower in cost. Some don’t require audiologist visits. We also included one standout hearing amplifier you may wish to consider.
The Eargo Max is Eargo’s least expensive hearing aid option. Like their other models, the Eargo Max is rechargeable and doesn’t require disposable batteries.
It’s designed for people with mild-to-moderate high-frequency hearing loss.
Eargo sells hearing aids through a website, eliminating the need for an in-person audiologist visit and prescription. After taking an online hearing test, you’ll work directly with an Eargo hearing professional by phone or online to fine-tune the settings.
These hearing aids come with lifetime support, enabling you to access a hearing professional whenever you need to. They also come with a 45-day money-back guarantee and a 1-year warranty.
They’re virtually invisible and comfortable to wear. Plus, you can request a non-working pair for free before purchase to see if you like how they look and feel.
Lively hearing aids can be purchased as rechargeable or button battery hearing aids.
The rechargeable option costs around $500 more and includes a charger case. The battery-powered package includes a 1-year supply of batteries.
Both packages include 3 years of online care from a Lively audiologist, app access, a 100-day money-back guarantee, and a 3-year warranty.
These hearing aids are meant for people with mild or moderate hearing loss, come equipped with noise cancellation technology, and you can use them to stream music and phone calls from your smartphone.
To purchase, upload your existing prescription or take an online hearing test.
Kirkland Signature hearing aids are only available through Costco, so you need a Costco membership to buy them. Costco membership ranges from $60 to $120 annually.
An in-person hearing test is required prior to purchase and is available at a Costco Hearing Aid Center.
They’re designed to produce a rich, stereo-quality sound that mimics high-quality headphones. Plus, smart technology automatically adjusts your hearing aids to your listening environment.
They’re Bluetooth compatible. This enables you to stream media directly to your headphones from any smart device, answer your phone, or play music by double-tapping your hearing aids. You can also use a remote app to adjust volume and other settings.
The Audicus Dia II is the Audicus’s least expensive hearing aids option, using disposable button batteries. You can purchase them alone for a one-time cost or as a bundle for a monthly membership fee.
They give you unlimited access to an Audicus professional online or by phone, come with a 45-day money-back trial, and include a 1-year warranty.
To purchase these behind-the-ear hearing aids, you can use an existing prescription, take an online hearing test at Audicus online, or visit a hearing professional in person at an Audicus hearing store.
They filter out background noise to make conversation easier to follow and are meant for people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.
These behind-the-ear hearing aids from Nano can be bought without a prescription, though there’s an online hearing test you can take before you purchase. They come with a 45-day risk-free money-back guarantee.
They use disposable A13 batteries, so factor in that cost when deciding if this is the option you want to go with.
These include special features like feedback cancellation and background noise reduction. They also connect to a wireless app, allowing you to manually adjust the volume and other settings.
Hearing aids can be expensive and are not meant to last a lifetime. In general, you can expect them to last about 3 to 7 years.
We recommend avoiding hearing aids that don’t come with a risk-free trial and warranty. You may be able to get a free trial through the manufacturer if buying from them directly or from the audiologist or retail location you buy from.
Before choosing hearing aids from any manufacturer, check to see if they provide a warranty and what it covers. Some warranties include loss and damage, while others include free repair or replacement services.
Be sure to read the fine print so you know what you’re getting.
Check for discounts
It’s also a good idea to check if any discounts are available. Federal employees, teachers, first responders, veterans, and members of the military are often given discounts upon purchase.
Ask what products, features, and services a bundle includes
In some instances, a bundle may make sense for you. Even though bundles can include extras that aren’t as important to you, they sometimes offer hearing aid upgrades every 18 months to 2 years. Bundles may also fold in the cost of batteries, extended warranties, and insurance.
Go over payment options
Many hearing aids come with monthly payment options. These can make your hearing aids more affordable in the short term but cost more in the long term.
Even so, it’s better to get a monthly payment plan you can budget for rather than forgo getting hearing aids that you need.
Treat your hearing aids with care to keep them lasting as long as possible and ensure optimal performance. Clean them regularly; store them correctly, according to the manufacturer’s instructions; and avoid damp or dusty environments.
Hearing amplifiers don’t provide the same level of hearing correction that hearing aids do. Generally, hearing amplifiers amplify all frequencies, while hearing aids are specially made for you to optimize the sounds you have trouble hearing.
Even though hearing aids can be expensive, they’re typically better suited to the needs of people with hearing loss, compared with hearing amplifiers.
Before you decide on the best hearing solution for you, see an audiologist or other hearing professional. They can give you a hearing test and provide input as to the type of hearing loss you have.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer and reproductive health professional who specializes in health and wellness content. She has spent much of the last two decades educating people about infertility and family building options. Whelan is a science nerd, and her heroes span the gamut from Temple Grandin to her wonderful mom. She shares her life in Brooklyn, NY with her all-grown-up, fascinating children and their wacky shelter dogs. Follow her on Twitter.